By Tafi Mhaka
I never found it instructive that one of my dad’s best friends hailed from Matabeleland. It wasn’t VaNleya’s ethnicity that I regularly appreciated on Saturday afternoons, but his liberal, dynamic and jovial character. Mr Nleya loved to drink beer and talk. And although my dad didn’t drink alcohol, he got along extraordinary well with VaNleya.
Whenever he was around, our home would be filled with diverse, stimulating conversations and wonderful music blaring from the brown vinyl player in the sitting room. We would always play our treasured 12-inch records and enjoy the pleasure of a small, basic liberty in life: friendship.
Right about the same time, I had developed a voracious appetite for reading, history and politics. Besides perusing the dogmatic Herald every day, I read the Financial Gazette on Thursday evenings. But it was my dad’s subscription to parliament’s Hansard that I found most valuable.
I really loved the fiery contributions the late Sydney Malunga made to parliamentary debates. Yet, I never found it instructive that Malunga represented Mpopoma on a Zapu ticket, spoke Ndebele as his mother tongue and came from Bulawayo.
My infrequent visits to Mpopoma never disappointed me, as I had family living there. My late nephew, Weston Mayimbo, had grown up in Bulawayo. There, he had raised a family and started a string of businesses, including a butchery in Mzilikazi. So, when our family travelled to Hwange or Kamativi, via Bulawayo, we often visited SaMayimbo’s home.
It was indescribably great to have family engrained in the heart of Bulawayo’s urban landscape, steeped in the traditions of Matabeleland and rooted in the underbelly of a pulsating melting pot. Yet I never found it instructive that SaMayimbo, an affable SaManyika to the core, had raised a wonderful family over 600 kilometres away from his ancestral home in Honde Valley.
I just mingled enthusiastically and enjoyed the cultural ebbs and flows that a young, fluid and developing society provided. So I must admit that the 1987 Unity Accord took me by surprise, because the Matabeleland massacres had been shrouded in absolute secrecy. They in fact existed beyond the moral realm of the daily interactions many of us actively sought and enjoyed.
We refused to define ourselves through a contrived prism of tribal hate, political opportunism, repression or murder. So to portend that prior to 1987, Zimbabwe had been divided, was merely propaganda. Worse still, I found the suggestion that the so-called unity arrived at on paper, included me, rather mystifying, maddening and demeaning.
It wasn’t my decision to hound, rape and kill pregnant women, and dump their lifeless bodies in mass graves. I honestly played no part in supporting moves to target and murder young men in Matabeleland. In fact whatever former president Robert Mugabe may have said, claimed, signed or purported to do for ‘us’ in Matabeleland and Midlands, only to subdue Zapu, I’m sorry, but he didn’t represent me on any logical, tribal or political level.
By December 1987, many of us loathed his presidency and had silently jumped onto Edgar Tekere’s anti-establishment bandwagon. We just weren’t allowed to publicly voice our massive disgust at the government’s totalitarian rule or question the authenticity of the Unity Accord’s stated intentions.
Its aftermath has been similarly very disappointing, as the Unity Accord has given expression to simmering disunity. The agreement has provided a foundation to whitewash brutalities and stifle political talent from Matabeleland. Yet, we celebrate our negotiated togetherness every December, basically clueless about and insensitive to the physical and mental wounds imposed by Gukurahundi atrocities on thousands of innocent men, women and children’s lives.
Under the permeable umbrella of the Unity Accord, things have become so bad, people are pleading with the government to apologise to the victims of Gukurahundi. They are not demanding a deserved apology, but are begging for a public expression of formal pretence from a sullied, unsympathetic and unrepentant president.
Still, demanding that government finds a resolution to the Gukurahundi injustices shouldn’t be the sole preserve of the Matabeleland Civic Society or Matabeleland chiefs. It shouldn’t be a local or provincial affair that draws limited oxygen from an oppressive Zanu-pf government.
It should actually be a progressive national imperative. Time and again Zanu-PF has adopted a kill and negotiate strategy as a means to a political end. Many a time it has employed divisive nationalist philosophy to foment considerable distrust, violence and political chaos amongst us, and many have taken the bloody bait. That shouldn’t be allowed to persist, as a resolution to Gukurahundi is unendingly tied to our struggle for a stronger democracy and economic parity.
It’s a shame our brothers and sisters were killed in the name of Zimbabwe, only for where they lived and who they were. Nonetheless, today, it remains a festering embarrassment that, many among us, who masquerade as woke activists and progressive leaders, have not really stood up to demand justice and compensation for the disappeared, tortured, raped and slain.
Indeed, they have not gone the distance to fight for our moral sustenance vis-à-vis Gukurahundi. However, I sympathise with every individual’s unsolicited struggles, and owe my many of my greatest friendships and special moments in life to embracing ethnic diversity across the length and breadth of our beautiful nation.
I owe my identity to many impassioned souls who defied conventions and demonstrated that genuine unity could flourish free from dubious political agreements and traditional beliefs.
Suffice it to say that it is impossible to fully appreciate the gorgeous tapestry of ethnic diversity without resolving our government’s violent impunity during Gukurahundi once and for all. Indeed, it’s time to dump the Unity Accord and conclude a new, progressive pact.
Tafi Mhaka is a Johannesburg-based writer and commentator. His debut novel, Mutserendende: The African in Us, is scheduled for release in 2020. Follow him on @tafimhaka / tafi.mhaka